Paging Dr. Isidore

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 6.14 (go here for the full text):

Previously, librarii were called bibliopolas, because the Greeks call a book a biblion. The same people are called both librarii and antiquarians, but librarii are those who copy out both old and new things, while antiquarians are those who write out only the old, from which fact they derive their name. The scribe has received this name from writing (scribendo), expressing their duty with the quality of the word.

The scribe’s tools are the reed and the quill, because it is from these tools that words are fashioned on the page. But the reed comes from a plant, while the quill comes from a bird; its tip is divided into two, with its unity preserved throughout its whole form. I think that this is on account of the mystery rite and signifies the Old and New Testaments on its two points, by which the sacramen of the word is expressed as it pours forth from the blood of the Passion.

The reed (calamus) is so called because it lays down its liquid. For this reason, among sailors the word calare means “to set down”. The quill (penna) however, gets its name from hanging (pendendo), that is to say, from flying. It is, as I have said, proper to birds.

The sheets (foliae) of books are so called either from their similarity to the leaves of trees, or because they are made from folles, that is, from the hides which are typically taken from slain animals. The parts of these are called pages (paginae) because they are joined together (compingantur) in turn.

Verses are so called by the common people because the ancients used to write in the same way that they ploughed the land. At first, they drew the stylus from left to right, and then they turned it around on the following line, and then the succeeding line was again written from left to right. Rustic people still call these things verses. A scheda is a page which is still being corrected and not yet put back into the books. This is a Greek word, just like tomus.

Boustrophedon - Wikimedia Commons
An example of the boustrophedon mode of writing which Isidore describes here.

DE LIBRARIIS ET EORVM INSTRVMENTIS. Librarios antea bibliopolas dictos. Librum enim Graeci BIBLON vocant. Librarii autem iidem et antiquarii vocantur: sed librarii sunt qui et nova scribunt et vetera; antiquarii, qui tantummodo vetera, unde et nomen sumpserunt. Ab scribendo autem scriba nomen accepit, officium exprimens vocabuli qualitate. Instrumenta scribae calamus et pinna. Ex his enim verba paginis infiguntur; sed calamus arboris est, pinna avis; cuius acumen in dyade dividitur, in toto corpore unitate servata, credo propter mysterium, ut in duobus apicibus Vetus et Novum Testamentum signaretur, quibus exprimitur verbi sacramentum sanguine Passionis effusum. Dictus autem calamus quod liquorem ponat. Vnde et apud nautas calare ponere dicitur. Pinna autem a pendendo vocata, id est volando. Est enim, ut diximus, avium. Foliae autem librorum appellatae sive ex similitudine foliorum arborum, seu quia ex follibus fiunt, id est ex pellibus, qui de occisis pecudibus detrahi solent; cuius partes paginae dicuntur, eo quod sibi invicem conpingantur. Versus autem vulgo vocati quia sic scribebant antiqui sicut aratur terra. A sinistra enim ad dexteram primum deducebant stilum, deinde convertebantur ab inferiore, et rursus ad dexteram versus; quos et hodieque rustici versus vocant. Scheda est quod adhuc emendatur, et necdum in libris redactum est; et est nomen Graecum, sicut et tomus.

Wax Attack

Isidore, Etymologiae 6.9:

On Wax Tablets:

Wax tablets are the material of literature, the nurses of the young, they themselves

Give intelligence to the youth, and the beginnings of their sense,

the study of which the Greeks are said to be the first to have handed down. For the Greeks and the Etruscans first wrote with iron on wax tablets; later, the Romans ordered that no one should have an iron stylus. On this account, it used to be said among the scribes, ‘Don’t cut into the wax with iron.’ Later, it was established that they write in was with bones, as Atta speaking in the Satire,

Let us turn the plough in the wax and draw the furrough with a point of bone.

What is called graphium in Greek is called scriptorium in Latin; for GRAFE is writing (scriptura).

Ancient Roman Tablets Reveal Voices of the Earliest Londoners ...

DE CERIS. Cerae litterarum materies, parvulorum nutrices, ipsae (Dracont. Satisf. 63):

Dant ingenium pueris, primordia sensus.

Quarum studium primi Graeci tradidisse produntur. Graeci autem et Tusci primum ferro in ceris scripserunt; postea Romani iusserunt ne graphium ferreum quis haberet. [2] Vnde et apud scribas dicebatur: ‘Ceram ferro ne caedito.’ Postea institutum ut cera ossibus scriberent, sicut indicat Atta in Satura dicens (12):

Vertamus vomerem

in cera mucroneque aremus osseo.

Graphium autem Graece, Latine scriptorium dicitur. Nam GRAFE scriptura est.

Half Baconed Arguments

Roger Bacon, Opus Maius 1.1:

There are four exceptionally great obstacles to comprehending the truth, which impede every wise person, and hardly allow anyone to arrive at a true claim to wisdom. These are, to wit, the example of fragile and unworthy authority, the endurance of custom, the perception of the inexperienced mob, and the hiding of one’s own ignorance with a display of apparent wisdom. Every person is involved with these, every station of life is occupied by them. Indeed, anyone you meet in their particular arts of life and study and every kind of business uses the three worst arguments for the same conclusion: ‘this was exemplified by our ancestors,’ ‘this is customary,’ and ‘this has become common, and therefore should be maintained.’

Image result for roger bacon

Quatuor vero sunt maxima comprehendendae veritatis offendicula, quae omnem quemcumque sapientem impediunt, et vix aliquem permittunt ad verum titulum sapientiae pervenire: videlicet fragilis et indignae auctoritatis exemplum, consuetudinis diuturnitas, vulgi sensus imperiti, et propriae ignorantiae occultatio cum ostentatione sapientiae apparentis. His omnis homo involvitur, omnis status occupatur. Nam quilibet in singulis artibus vitae et studii et omnis negotii tribus pessimis ad eandem conclusionem utitur argumentis, scilicet, hoc exemplificatum est per maiores, hoc consuetum est, hoc vulgatum est; ergo tenendum. Sed oppositum conclusionis longe melius sequitur ex praemissis, sicut per auctoritatem et experientiam et rationem multipliciter probabo.

Instruction vs. Art

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 1.1:

Instruction (disciplina) received its name from learning (discendo): for this reason, it can also be called knowledge (scientia), because to know (scire) is derived from to learn (discere), because no one knows something if they have not learned it. Alternatively, it is called disciplina because it is learned in its fullness (discitur plena). Art however is so called because it consists of strict (artis) precepts and rules. Others say that this word is derived from the Greeks, from arete, that is, from virtue, which they called knowledge.

Plato and Aristotle wanted to establish this difference between art and instruction, saying that art (ars) consists of those things which can come about in an alternative way; but instruction (disciplina) deals with those things which cannot be otherwise than they are. For when something is discussed in true disputations, it is instruction; but when something similar to the truth and depending on conjecture is under discussion, it has the name of art.

Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg

DE DISCIPLINA ET ARTE. [1] De disciplina et arte. Disciplina a discendo nomen accepit: unde et scientia dici potest. Nam scire dictum a discere, quia nemo nostrum scit, nisi qui discit. Aliter dicta disciplina, quia discitur plena. [2] Ars vero dicta est, quod artis praeceptis regulisque consistat. Alii dicunt a Graecis hoc tractum esse vocabulum ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρετῆς, id est a virtute, quam scientiam vocaverunt. [3] Inter artem et disciplinam Plato et Aristoteles hanc differentiam esse voluerunt, dicentes artem esse in his quae se et aliter habere possunt; disciplina vero est, quae de his agit quae aliter evenire non possunt. Nam quando veris disputationibus aliquid disseritur, disciplina erit: quando aliquid verisimile atque opinabile tractatur, nomen artis habebit.

“Don’t Know Grammar, Don’t Give a F**k”

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Preface):

On the verge of writing the wars of kings with enemy nations, of martyrs with pagans, of the churches with heretics, I would first like to bring forth a display of my faith, so that one who reads me will not doubt that I am a Catholic. That plan has pleased me because of those, who despair of the approaching end of the world, so that the chief points of preceding times collected through chronicles and histories, and how many years there have been since the beginning of the world, may be clearly explained. But first I entreat the pardon of my readers, if I have run off the rails of grammatical art in my letters or my syllables, because I was not really educated with that skill, instead pursuing only that I may retain what is preached in the church without any recoiling or hesitation of my heart, because I know that one who is corrupted by sings is nevertheless able to obtain God’s pardon through a pure credulity.

Scribturus bella regum cum gentibus adversis, martyrum cum paganis, eclesiarum cum hereticis, prius fidem meam proferre cupio, ut qui legerit me non dubitet esse catholicum. Illud etiam placuit propter eos, qui adpropinquantem finem mundi disperant, ut, collectam per chronicas vel historias anteriorum summa, explanetur aperte, quanti ab exordio mundi sint anni. Sed prius veniam legentibus praecor, si aut in litteris aut in syllabis grammaticam artem excessero, de qua adpaene non sum inbutus; illud tantum studens, ut quod in eclesia credi praedicatur sine aliquo fugo aut cordis haesitatione reteneam, quia scio peccatis obnoxium per credulitatem puram obtinere posse veniam apud Deum.

Weather and Nation Building

Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum 1.1:

“The Northern region, the farther removed it is from the heat of the sun, and the more frigid it is with a snowy chill, so much the more salutary it is for the bodies of humans, and so much more fit for begetting children. In just the opposite way, every southern region abounds more with disease and is less suited to supporting human life the closer it is to the heat of the sun. And so it happens that such great masses of people are born under the northern pole as far east as the Tanais all the way to the west, and though each of those places may be called by their own particular local names, the whole may be called in one general word Germany, although the Romans, when they occupied the two provinces beyond the Rhine, referred to an upper and a lower Germany.

From this well-peopled Germany, therefore, innumerable bands of captives were abducted by the southern peoples and sold. Further, because that region gives birth to more people than it is able to feed, many tribes set out from their homes and afflicted indeed the countries of Asia, but chiefly Europe, which shared a border with them. All of the uprooted cities throughout all of Illyricum and Gaul are witnesses to this, but the greatest testament are the wretched cities of Italy, which experienced the savagery of nearly all of those tribes. The Goths, the Vandals, the Rugi, the Heruli and the Turcilingi, and various other fierce and barbaric nations sprang forth from Europe. In the same way, the tribe of the Winili – that is, the Lombards – which afterward ruled happily in Italy, drew its origin from the peoples of Germany, and although other causes are assigned for their migration, they arrived from the island which is called Scandinavia.”

Septemtrionalis plaga quanto magis ab aestu solis remota est et nivali frigore gelida, tanto salubrior corporibus hominum et propagandis est gentibus coaptata; sicut econtra omnis meridiana regio, quo solis est fervori vicinior, eo semper morbis habundat et educandis minus est apta mortalibus. Unde fit, ut tantae populorum multitudines arctoo sub axe oriantur, ut non inmerito universa illa regio Tanai tenus usque ad occiduum, licet et propriis loca in ea singula nuncupentur nominibus, generali tamen vocabulo Germania vocitetur; quamvis et duas ultra Rhenum provincias Romani, cum ea loca occupassent, superiorem inferioremque Germaniam dixerint.

Ab hac ergo populosa Germania saepe innumerabiles captivorum turmae abductae meridianis populis pretio distrahuntur. Multae quoque ex ea, pro eo quod tantos mortalium germinat, quantos alere vix sufficit, saepe gentes egressae sunt, quae nihilominus et partes Asiae, sed maxime sibi contiguam Europam afflixerunt. Testantur hoc ubique urbes erutae per totam Illyricum Galliamque, sed maxime miserae Italiae, quae paene omnium illarum est gentium experta saevitiam. Gothi siquidem Wandalique, Rugi, Heruli atque Turcilingi, necnon etiam et aliae feroces et barbarae nationes e Germania prodierunt. Pari etiam modo et Winilorum, hoc est Langobardorum, gens, quae postea in Italia feliciter regnavit, a Germanorum populis originem ducens, licet et aliae causae egressionis eorum asseverentur, ab insula quae Scadinavia dicitur adventavit.

Aeriportus Virumque Cano: Trump’s Revolutionary War Airports

An ancient Roman fragment about Revolutionary War airports was discovered buried under a liquefied bag of parsley and several desiccated carrots in a vegetable drawer. Here is the Latin text that Trump translated and quoted in his Fourth of July speech. Latin transcribed by Dani Bostick. Translation by Donald Trump.

Nostri milites caelum complent. Partes arietis arietant.  Aeriportus occupant. Peragenda peragunt. Et in monte Capitrolino, per falaricarum cruentam lucem, nihil nisi victoriam habent. Et cum Aurora venit,  Signum Sideribus Splendens ferociter fluitat.

Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ram parts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHendry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.




Of Jon Snow and Aeneas I Sing…

This text was discovered inside the hollow of a golden branch. On top was written, Pius Aeneas hoc scripsit (“Pious Aeneas wrote this”). On a separate document was a message written by one P.V.M. that said, carmen tam horribile est ut cum inhumata turba vagari malim.” (“This poem is so terrible that I prefer to wander with the unburied masses”).  It is thought that after Aeneas encountered Marcellus in the underworld, he received poetry lessons from Vergil himself. From a close reading of this text, we can also infer that Aeneas met the disembodied soul of George R.R. Martin and saw a performance of Game of Thrones

P. Aeneas (?), Maior Pietate Sum, Edited by Dani Bostick

Per campum magno gemitu fremit discordia vulgi.
Corpora caesa inter fluit foedum sanguinis flumen
Nunc Rex Noctis et Albi Euntes glomerantur ut aves,
Nunc amita et coniunx, volat Daenerys vecta per auras
Serpente expirante ignem. Nunc nubibus flammae
Ex caelo volat Ioannes Nivis; eum vehit serpens.
O lux Targaryum, spes o fidissima Arcti,
Aenea maior armis pietateque claro es?
Fecerat ignipotens scutum deus? Nec tenes scutum!

Dic mihi quid muros ascenderit hostis ab Orco
Dic mihi quid Regem Noctis mortesque necarit
Femina. Sed sine telis Aeneas viribus hostes
Caedebat victorque viros supereminet omnes.
At vero ipse ensem tumido in pulmone recondit
Vi magni scuti.

Over the battlefield with a great groan the disorganized crowd roars.
A disgusting river of blood flows among the slaughtered bodies,
Now the Night King and White Walkers gather like birds,
Now aunt and consort Daenerys flies through the air
On a fire-breathing dragon. Now from clouds of flame
Out of the sky flies John Snow; a dragon carries him.

Oh light of the Targaryans, Oh most faithful hope of the North,
Are you are greater in piety and arms than famous Aeneas?
Did the all-fiery god make your shield? You do not have one!
Tell me why an enemy of shades climbed the walls!
Tell me why a woman killed the Night King and zombies!
But Aeneas used to slaughter the enemy with his
Own strength and as a victor he surpasses all men.
And he himself indeed buries the sword into the inflated chest
With his big shield energy.

The Aeneid’s Pot Brownie, Commentary on 6.420

Fragments of this lost commentary on the Aeneid were recently found near a monument to Saint Raphael. The work, dated to 420 CE, was signed only with the name “Louis.” This comment is on Book VI when Aeneas and Sibyl subdue Cerberus in the underworld. Edited by Dani Bostick

Aeneid 6.419-22

Seeing Cerberus’ neck bristling with snakes,
the priestess tosses him a treat laced with honey
and medicated grains. Opening his three throats,
rabid with hunger, he scarfs down what she tossed, and
his huge backs relax as he falls to the ground, spread
out across the entire cave.

Cui vātēs horrēre vidēns iam colla colubrīs
melle sopōrātam et medicātīs frūgibus offam 420
obicit. Ille famē rabidā tria guttura pandēns
corripit obiectam, atque immānia terga resolvit
fūsus humī tōtōque ingēns extenditur antrō.

6.420  she tosses a treat laced with honey and medicated grains

Here “treat” is a pot brownie. 420 is an extraordinary number. If one were to sail from Carthage to Alba Longa with a stop in Sicily, the journey would be 420 miles. Here, however, is not the number 420. You see, 4 is April, the fourth month of the year, and 20 is the twentieth day of the month (the 12th day before the Kalends).  On this day, almost everyone enjoys cannabis.

Ovid once wrote, “Caesar, in April you have something which might take control of you” (Fasti 4.20). He added, “Aeneas, manifest piety, carried through fire sacred things and his father on his shoulders, other sacred things.” Ovid is telling us that Aeneas imported cannabis, “sacred things,” into Italy as a trafficker of drugs. We also know that oracles use such drugs frequently.

For these reasons, the treat consumed by Cerberus was not full of opiates, but rather cannabis. Since the treat was not only drugged with honey, but with “medicated grains,” which we call “cannabis,” Cerberus immediately passes out when he eats it. When men consume cannabis, some lose their minds and rage in reefer madness, others, calm as stones, rest on the sofa and, eager for food, satisfy their hunger with snacks.


6.420  melle soporatam et medicatis frugibus offam

Hic “offam” est crustulum cannabis.

420 est numerus extraordinarius. Si quis, commoratus in Sicilia, a Karthagine ad Albam Longam navigaret, iter CDXX milium passuum esset. Hic tamen non est CDXX, sed numerus diei. Nam IV est Mensis Aprilis, quarta mensis anni; XX est vicesima dies mensis, a.d. XII Kal.  Ea die paene omnes cannibi fruuntur.

Ovidius olim scripsit: “Caesar, in Aprili, quo tenearis, habes” (4.20). addidit, “Aeneas, pietas spectata, per ignes sacra patremque humeris, altera sacra, tulit.” nobis dicit Aenean cannabim, “sacra,” in Italiam mercatorem medicamentorum portavisse. Scimus etiam vates medicamentis saepe fruari.

Quibus de causis, offa a Cerbero comesta non est plena papaverum, sed cannabis. Cum offa non modo melle, sed etiam “medicatis frugibus,” quas “cannabim” vocamus, soporata esset, Cerberus ea comesta subito obdormivit. Cum homines cannabim consumunt, alii furibundi insania cautum furiant, alii placati velut lapides in toro conquiescunt avidique cibi latrantem stomachum cenulis leniunt.  



Vide: Hesychius, s.v. kannabis

Kannabis: A Skythian herb for burning which has the kind of power that it completely dries out anything subject to it. It is a plant similar to linen from which Thracians make ropes (Cf. Herodotus 4.74.)

κάνναβις· Σκυθικὸν θυμίαμα, ὃ τοιαύτην ἔχει δύναμιν, ὥστε ἐξικμάζειν πάντα τὸν παρεστῶτα. ἔστι δὲ φυτόν τι λίνῳ ὅμοιον, ἐξ οὗ αἱ Θρᾷσσαι ἱμάτια ποιοῦσιν. ῾Ηρόδοτος (4,74)

“Kannabisthênai: to extract and burn cannabis.”

κανναβισθῆναι· πρὸς τὴν κάνναβιν ἐξιδρῶσαι καὶ πυριασθῆναι

N.B. This discovery may have been satirical. The Hesychius is real.



De Oniferibus, On Cargo Shorts

This leaflet was found in the pocket of an article of clothing thought to be worn by Julius Caesar in his leisure time. The garment was discovered centuries ago, but its numerous pockets weren’t completely emptied until recently. It is thought the author could be an associate of the person who wrote De Imaginibus Verendorum. Edited by Dani Bostick.

Once they have children, men consider whether it is proper to set aside the toga and wear a new kind of clothing. This kind of clothing is called “cargo shorts” because they can carry much cargo. I wrote this little pamphlet so that you might understand everything about them.

Although the gods give men two hands, men desire eight hands so that they can carry as many things as possible. Driven by an insatiable desire to carry everything, a clever man once invented cargo shorts, when, having set aside concern for aesthetics, he attached as many pockets as possible to shapeless shorts. In this way, he made an unfashionable type of clothing even more unfashionable. But because of the pockets, cargo shorts are as useful as they are unattractive. For with his hands free, he was able to carry many things more easily.

Now I will answer all of your questions:

What kinds of things can be kept in the pockets? Keys, change, tissues, business cards, medicine, knives, wallets, pens, writing pads, snacks, bottles of beer, puppies– amazing to say!

Can’t maps be kept in cargo shorts? No! You see, a man who wears cargo shorts always knows where he is and how to get to every place.

Can’t feminine property be kept in cargo shorts? When a wife asks her husband to hold on to feminine things, the man responds to her either that he does not have enough pockets or that all of the pockets are already full of other things, even if his pockets are completely empty.

Do they come in Tyrian purple? That is a violation of divine law! They can only be the color of dirt or stone.

Can’t they be made to fit properly? No! As it is said: Function over form! A comfortable body through shapeless clothes! Covering only part of the knee! Always socks with sandals!

Is that a javelin in your pocket? No! I am just happy to see you.*

Filiis natis viri num togam deponere ac novum vestimenti genus induere fas sit considerant. Hoc genus vestimenti “oniferes” appellatur quod multa onera ferre possunt. Hunc libellum scripsi ut vos omnia de oniferibus intelligeretis.

Quamquam di viris duas manus dent, viri octo manus cupiunt ut quam plurimas res secum ferant. Olim insatiabili omnium portandorum cupiditate commotus vir astutus oniferes machinatus est cum curis venustatis depositis bracis informis quam plurimos sacculos applicavit. Ad hunc modum illepidum vestimentum illepidius fecit sed propter sacculos oniferes tam utiles quam illepidi sunt. Nam manibus expeditis multa facilius ferre poterat. Nunc mihi respondendum ad omnia: 

Quales res in sacculis teneri possunt? Claves, sestertios, sudaria, tesseras salutrices, medicamenta, cultros, sacculos minores, stilos, tabulas, cenulas, ampullas cervisiae, catulos– mirum dictu!

Nonne tabulae geographicae in oniferibus teneri possunt? Minime! Nam vir oniferes gerens semper scit ubi sit atque quibus viis ad omnes locos advenire possit.

Nonne res muliebres in oniferibus tenentur? Cum uxor virum rogat ut res muliebres teneat, vir ei respondet aut satis sacculorum sibi deesse aut omnes sacculos iam crebros aliis rebus esse, etsi sacculi pleni araneorum sunt.

Murice tingi possunt? Nefas est! Oniferes colorem aut humi aut lapidis habent.

Nonne apte caedi possunt?  Minime! Ut dicitur: fungi quam ornare! Corpus commodum per vestem informam! partem genus modo tegere! Semper socci soleaeque!

Estne tibi pilum in sacculo? Minime! Ego modo te videre gaudeo.*

*This last question was written in a different style of handwriting.

** This piece is satire.

Medieval pants